Malcolm Middleton & David Shrigley — Words and Music — Album Review

Released 15th of December available through Melodic Records. Back in October, announcements of a collaboration between Malcolm Middleton (of Arab Strap fame) with spoken word, film and artist David Shrigley were greeted with some animosity from die hard ‘Arab Strap-ers’ (a term I just made up) calling time ‘to give Aidan Moffat [their other member] a call’.

Perhaps this sentiment best signals whose artistic direction was at the forefront of this new project/album Words and Music. Coming from my perspective, as someone whose interest in this record due to my infantile bemusement at the sound of Shrigley’s deadpan, anorak-and-prescription-glasses tones at the end of a few good Late Night Tales CD’s, I awaited this records release with the kind of glee expected of someone into that sort of thing. His prior work is startling. Both in its length and in its width. As an artist he’s secured a Turner Prize nominee (something he didn’t care about) and the prestigious Fourth Plinth at Trafalgar Square (in 2015); also count the 12 awards he won for his short film. As a musician he’s no stranger to collaboration having already worked with Aidan Moffat (as well as Franz Ferdinand, David Byrne and Hot Chip) for an album adaptation of his lyrics (Worried Noodles).

For Middleton, his achievements can be measured by the success of Arab Strap, his collaborations and his five solo albums. The record signifies a change in direction of Shrigley and Middleton’s work. While his first album Late Night Tales Presents: Shrigley Forced To Speak To Others was much darker and more subtle, this album denotes a progression from this. What is gone is the unsettling yet gentle tones of Shrigley, seen in pieces like When I Was a Little Girl or Don’ts. But what we see is a much more developed attention to production which can only really stem from a little help from a friend who’s had a good 20 years worth of experience. It compliments well in places, like A Toast probably the first danceable (in parts) Shrigley track. It’s definitely more up-tempo, visceral and less precious. It’s more like something that an indie band member would contribute to an experimental piece. Brash, more fun, but something is lost.

Where Middleton’s more subtle brush stands out, particularly in A Computer with his unmistakably Middletonian riff-musings, they partner well. But neither particularly blend in tracks like Sunday Morning, when Middleton has free range of the mixing desk, and Shrigley’s lyrics are shouted out. When shouted all illusions of subtlety are removed and it seems a bit, forced. That said, his signature humour is in no way overshadowed by Middleton’s polished production; Story Time (the original preview) is a perfect example of the crude kind of humour we’re dealing with, a blunt instrument. They are at their best in Dear Brain; lyrics like ‘stop making me say things that I don’t mean, and you stop making me do things that I don’t want to do’ echo the Shrigley I enjoy.

The album is fun, worth your time, but disappointingly lacking the unsettling nuances and soothing guitar of Shrigley and Middletons respective prior work.